Archive for the ‘Creationism’ Category

Because I have too much free time

December 5, 2008

A fellow named Jeff left a comment on an earlier post of mine, regarding some actions taken by Barbara Forrest of the National Center for Science Education to counter a creationist Trojan Horse bill in Louisiana. (The bill made it into law, as the reader may recall. We’re still waiting for the hammer of the courts to fall upon that one.)

Jeff’s comment was completely unrelated to that post. Instead, it was a self-styled “critique” of a speech Forrest apparently gave at a Southern Methodist Church. In the interest of promoting good science, and because I have little better to do, I have deleted Jeff’s comment and reproduced it here. I have attempted to counter his specious and often ludicrous arguments with some semblance of objective rationality.

It’s long. I hope you have too much free time as well!



The Distant Origin Theory

November 2, 2008

Lately, my preferred method of wasting time has been watching old episodes of Star Trek Voyager. I never watched it during its original run, but, consummate nerd that I am, I recently decided to check it out. I’ve found much of it decent, some of it appallingly bad, and some more of it rising to the heights of sci fi excellence characteristic of Star Trek at its best. One such episode had me rapt: Distant Origin. I found fascinating parallels with issues in the news today.

The episode concerns a race of reptilian beings, the Voth, who carry the conceit (they call it “Doctrine”) that they were the first sentient beings to evolve in their area of space. A professor of the Voth subscribes to the “distant origin theory,” which holds that they actually arose on a distant planet, and spread through the galaxy over millions of years, forgetting their heritage in the time. He finds evidence to support his theory, in the form of bones left by a strange creature that happens to share a large portion of its genome with the Voth. The bones, of course, belong to one of the Voyager crew.

It turns out later on that the reptilian race is descended from the dinosaurs. Supposedly a lineage of hadrosaurs evolved sophisticated intelligence, built spacecraft, and escaped the dinosaurs’ extinction. (The dinosaurs’ real descendants, birds, are not mentioned.) The episode, like much of TV and the US in general, shows a sad lack of understanding of evolution. There’s one scene on the holodeck in which the captain asks the computer to extrapolate the evolution of hadrosaurs 65 million years into the future, as if that were possible outside the context of an environment populated with other organisms, and given the random nature of mutation. Still, there was one thing the episode got right, and spectacularly.

The Voth, as I noted, believe that they arose in the section of space they now inhabit. As it turns out, they are extremely hostile to anything that challenges this ideology. They charge the professor with heresy, and refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence in support of the distant origin theory. Beginning to sound familiar? Yep, it’s a perfect vision of what would happen to science if the creationists were to gain control. All findings would be run through the filter of dogma, and those that didn’t fit would be censored and ignored. Chilling, to be sure. The selective blindness and moral cowardice of the creationist movement is perfectly captured in the opposition of the Voth’s ruling council to the obvious truth.

I amused myself with the idea of showing this episode to fundies, to give them a mirror into their own way of thinking. My amusement was curtailed when I realized that most fundies would probably just see themselves in the poor, persecuted professor, and see the evil, godless Darwinists in his oppressors. The selective reality filter of the dogmatic mind is a powerful thing.

On freedom of choice

August 22, 2008

There are many reasons that account for creationism’s persistence in the United States. Most of them stem from the active lobbying of former “creation science” and now “intelligent design” proponents, who today work very hard to see that Americans equate evolution with atheism, and choose God over godless science. However, to my mind, none of these reasons accounts for the fact that Americans think there ought to be an alternative to evolution in the first place. This point bears some expanding before I continue.

There are of course many examples of two or more theories competing for acceptance in the scientific community. Earlier in the last century, for example, steady state models of the universe competed with the Big Bang model, and eventually the evidence for the Big Bang won out. However, it should be obvious that every question in science will have only one answer. Given that that is so, why should Americans, or anyone else, expect there to be alternative theories to evolution, whose evidence has proven out repeatedly over 150 years?

I submit that the answer lies in our love of freedom; specifically, freedom of choice.

We’re used to choosing among 300 different kinds of ketchup in the grocery store, and we glorify in it. The availability of such choice creates competition among ketchup makers, forcing them to keep quality high and prices low. The same kind of choice, with the same results, pervades every available product. It also pervades religion, another commodity which many Americans see as a matter of choosing among available options. Nw that I set it down in words, it seems odd to me that people would feel at home choosing among positions on the nature of humanity and its place in the universe, just as they would choosing among flavors of Pop Tarts, but such is the power of freedom of choice.

Now we come to creationism. Americans are brought up to think that it is their inviolable right to have the freedom to choose among a range of options, in products, in employers, in relationships, and in religion. It is no large step to extend this way of thinking to scientific theories. If we are free to choose among religions, which after all make factual claims about the universe and our place in it, based only on our own personal preferences, why shouldn’t we be free to choose among scientific theories on the same basis? I submit that this is what creationists have done. Seeing creationism and evolution as two equally valid theories, they choose the one most pleasing to them personally.

I’m sure I have grossly simplified many matters here, not the least of which is the fact that a good number of Americans do not in fact consciously choose their religion, but receive it whole cloth from the one thing no one is free to choose: their parents. Still, I believe this deeply felt sense of entitlement to choice plays a part. In combating it, then, it falls to educators (like me) to impart on children more stringent criteria for choice, among them empirical evidence and rational argument. They will choose in any case, and it falls on us to see that they choose wisely.

God bless Texas

July 28, 2008

I leave the country for a few weeks, and science education falls apart.

That’s not quite fair: the impending destruction of Texas’ science standards has loomed for quite some time. But the first meetings regarding the construction of the new curriculum have taken place, and the dame should be complete by the end of the summer.

At issue, of course, is the push by the Board of Education chair Don McLeroy to teach the “strenghts and weaknesses” of evolution. This, of course, is another “academic freedom”-esque smoke screen for shoehorning “Goddidit” arguments into science classrooms. The Austin Chronicle has an excellent opinion piece documenting McLeroy’s inanity; trust me, read it right now.

My uncle who lives in Houston tried to convince me that I should teach in Texas (instead of in Washington, where I will begin teaching in September.) Indeed, Texas compensates teachers much more generously than Washington, and the Houston area is beautiful by all accounts. But I think I would need a powerful martyr complex to begin my career in a state whose board of education is headed by a creationist lackwit. Severe kudos and mad props to all science teachers who give evolution the central treatment it deserves.

Conservapedia feels teh pwnag3

June 25, 2008

Now, it’s true that I first heard about this on Pharyngula, but if I used my blog just to post links to all the interesting stories I’ve seen on Pharyngula, I might as well just replace all my posts with this: So, instead, I’ll link you to Conservapedia.

No, don’t leave! I promise you’ll like this.

You may have heard about Dr. Richard Lenski’s discovery of the evolution of a novel trait in a laboratory strain of E. coli. You may also have heard that Andrew Schlafly of Conservapedia has made a ludicrous demand to see Dr. Lenski’s data. This despite the fact that Schlafly has no science background, no qualifications to examine the data, and has not even read Dr. Lenski’s paper.

Dr. Lenski sent a very polite reply, in which he kindly asked Mr. Schlafly to read his paper. It’s only reasonable, after all, that you should read a scientist’s paper if you intend to critique his research. Mr. Schlafly’s reply? Another demand to see the data, despite no indication that he knows what to do with it, and despite the fact that, by all accounts, he still hasn’t read the paper.

Dr. Lenski’s second reply is the real money in this piece. He’s still polite, but in this letter he’s taken on the tone of an exasperated parent, scolding a child who refuses to behave. It’s fairly long, but you simply must read it. I’ve never seen a better takedown of a creationist wingnut.

Once you’ve read it, reflect on the tagline for this exchange on the Conservapedia main page:

Lenski’s latest response to a request for his data is revealing … about Lenski’s attitude. Take a good look at the attitude our tax dollars are paying for.

Dr. Lenski, a professional scientist, takes all this time to write a measured response to the ludicrous demands of a creationist whackjob, and Mr. Schlafly accuses him of attitude? That’s more than my daily recommendation of irony, that is.


June 21, 2008

This is great stuff. As you know, Ken Ham recently spoke at the Pentagon. PZ Myers lamented the fact on his blog, Pharyngula. In the post, he called Mr. Ham a “wackaloon.”


Well, seeing as Mr. Ham is working to systematically destroy good science, you’d think he’d be used to insults like that by now. In fact, it seems to me that “wackaloon” should be on the gentler side of the names slung at him. However, judging by this post on his Answers in Genesis blog, he’s made of softer stuff than you would think. He lambastes Dr. Myers for his intolerance. (I would say he’s right about that: Dr. Myers is deeply intolerant. He refuses to tolerate attacks on science and science education. So do I, for what it’s worth.)

Dr. Myers responds in top form with this post. Therein, he encourages people to add whatever colorful insults they can think of in the comment section.

Now, I have said before that I do not go in for personal attacks and insults, and I am going to hold to that here. If someone’s position is demonstrably wrong, you should be able to point that out by refuting their argument, not by attacking them personally. So, rather than insult Mr. Ham, I’ll just say this. His arguments are stupid. His scientific understanding is trumped by that of your average middle school student. By his own admission he is not really interested in science, because he holds that the Bible is literal and foundational truth, and anything that contradicts it must be false, even if that which contradicts it is the whole of reality.

Does anyone listen to him who does not already believe that the Bible is inerrant? If so, things are worse for humanity than I thought.

Another great blog post

June 20, 2008

Please read this excellent blog post on the Louisiana academic freedom fiasco. I think it sums up all the issues nicely.

It’s starting to seem to me that the only light at the end of this tunnel is the courts. As soon as some witless teacher uses the law (assuming it becomes so, and it seems likely) as a pretext to teach intelligent design, the courts will swat the school down like a housefly on a birthday cake. Sure, Louisiana will be humiliated and the school district will be out hundreds of thousands of dollars, but science education in the state will finally be safe.

Until the next loony bill comes around.

Some fun with Gov. Jindal

June 20, 2008

Gov. Jindal, of course, is the governor of the fair state of Louisiana, which is currently poised to explode in a barrage of litigation and international ridicule because of this bill. A campaign is underway to petition Gov. Jindal to veto the bill, but that outcome seems unlikely, as pointed out by a pointed and hilarious post at a blog called Rational Soapbox.

I won’t attempt to recreate the funny here. Follow the link, and laugh heartily, even as your faith in humanity dissolves.

The Pentagon has strange advisors these days

June 19, 2008

I seem to be parroting Pharyngula a lot these days. Do I have original thoughts, or have I fallen simply to regurgitating PZ Myers’ articles like some kind of… article regurgitation machine?

We’ll leave that question for later. Here’s the article, and here’s its source. The news? Ken Ham was invited to speak at a prayer breakfast at the Pentagon.

Ken Ham, the scientifically illiterate fundamentalist whackadoo who befiles our nation’s pristine roadways, is going to give a presentation to the men and women who decide where the missiles go.

Ken Ham, the reality denialist nutcase who poisons children’s minds with Creation Museums and bogus research journals, was invited to speak by those who determine much of the fate of the free world.

The question I’d like answered is “Why?” Is it because so many of the people in power are fundamentalist Evangelicals like Bush? Are they reality denialists too? How can I stop myself from quaking in terror?

The rest of the AiG article goes into how the Bible proves there’s no life on other planets, or something. Glad he got that sorted out. Now all the astronomers and SETI researchers can stop looking! I’m sure they’ll be pleased to find out they’ve been wasting their time.

Louisiana Senate sends SB 733 to the governor

June 18, 2008

The news from Louisiana just keeps getting worse.

SB 733, the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, has cleared both houses of the state legislature and is on its way to Governor Jindal’s desk. If he signs it, it will become law. If it becomes law, some witless science teacher will present ID as a legitimate theory, the school district will be sued, and millions of dollars will be thrown into the judicial toilet. It’s hard to imagine a worse outcome for public science education.

Thankfully, the Louisiana Coalition for Science hasn’t given up. Their website now bears a press release enumerating their objections to the bill, and information on how to contact Bobby Jindal and make clear your concerns. If enough people e-mail him, he just might veto the bill and save his state the already impending embarassment, ridicule, and litigation. It seems like a long shot to me, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. I’ve already done so.

Please, gentle reader, add your voice to the tumult. The forces of anti-science thrive on our silence, but they will wither when we raise our voices against them.